The Fractal Prince
by Hannu Rajaniemi
Cover Artist: Kekai Kotaki
Review by Benjamin Wald
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765329509
Date: 27 November 2012 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Fractal Prince is the sequel to Hannu Rajaniemi's debut novel The Quantum Thief, and it very much lives up to the promise of the earlier novel. It continues the story of Jean LeFlambeur, master thief, as he treks through an exotic post-singularity solar system, through the territory of the hegemonic Sobernost who rule the inner system. Much like the first novel, we get heists, betrayals, and a dizzying view of a consist and intricately imagined far-future setting. Those who liked the last book will find the same strengths on display, those who found The Quantum Thief confusing or overly flashy will have the same criticisms of this novel; I can't get enough of Rajaniemi myself.
In place of the moving Martian city with its intricate memory-sharing protocols from The Quantum Thief, this novel spends much of its length exploring what has become of earth, which has become an Arabian-nights-like landscape full of rogue Djinn, where the wild nanotech that infests the landscape can be controlled by 'secret names', words of power that when used produce effects that resemble magic. This setting could easily have been the focus of an entire trilogy on its own; in Rajaniemi's hands it is merely a part of the grand solar-system wide tapestry he spins.
The Fractal Prince explores in more detail the background of some of the main characters, particularly Mieli, the Outer mercenary who rescued Jean from his prison and set him on his mission in service to the mysterious Pellegrini. We also learn more about the solar system spanning Sobernost, a society made up almost entirely of computer mind copies of the founders and millions upon millions of uploaded gogols, human minds forced into servitude to the Sobernost, and their founder the ruthless Matjek Chen.
The plot is hard to summarize, and I don't want to spoil any of the twists. Suffice it to say that Jean must again seek to pull off a dramatic heist, this time one that he had tried and failed to pull off before his original capture, when he was at the height of his powers, all the while being pursued by the Sobernost hunters. The plot is fast paced and dazzling. It manages to weave in the backstory of various characters, showing their motivations and history, while never losing the momentum of the plot.
I find Rajaniemi's writing intoxicating, but it must be admitted that he relies on his reader to be familiar with SF tropes to pick up some of what is going on. Readers not familiar with the idea of minds uploaded to computers might feel a bit lost at times. Still, its well worth the effort, and even if some plot twists are hard to grasp, this need not ruin the story, which has plenty going on at the level of the character's relationships to keep the reader's interest.
Rajaniemi is not an author who makes a good introduction to science fiction. However, for SF fans he is writing some of the most exciting work in the genre. He juggles the familiar tropes effortlessly, breathing new life into everything he touches. I await the conclusion of the trilogy with baited breath.